Category Archives: Mike

Guest posts from Mike

God’s Plans…

In the last week our family has been praying for something very specific….sunset_sailing….it didn’t happen.Now comes the normal responses of all of us as we seek to know what God is doing…

I prayed, why didn’t he answer?

This was really important to me, how could he not do it?

Is there really a God at all if he doesn’t answer prayers like this?

How can I trust him when he knew how important this was?

Why pray at all if he doesn’t answer anyway?

I’m sure you could add a dozen other questions to this list that you have asked as the plans and prayers you hoped for didn’t come true, didn’t materialize.

What is God doing? What’s his plans for us?  How do we navigate this topic of prayer when often the things we ask for are very important to us?  Now what?  Can we trust him?  Should I even pray for things again since he didn’t answer this prayer?  Doesn’t he know how important this was to me?

The emotions of unanswered prayer are intense.  The hoped for expectations that are crushed by a prayer unanswered are confusing.  Now what? Where do we go from here?

There are often no words for the emotions that follow an unanswered prayer.  For me, after many years of knowing God, I realized that often my dreams and visions are not the best thing for me…and so I trust God for his plans, his directions….but it’s hard, isn’t it?  It’s hard when we asked, we wanted, we hoped…and he replies with silence.  Is he there at all?  Is he, as many say, the God of the deist…making it all and then walking away?  Unanswered prayers make us ask those questions…especially when he has invited us to ask!

The bottom line for all of this is simply this-  God loves us. God is sovereign and his love, his plans, and his wisdom direct our lives for his glory and our good.  It doesn’t mean we always get what we want…and that confuses us because we “know” that what we want is the very best thing….if only God would give us what we prayed for.

But often he doesn’t.  Now what?

Solomon wrote these words,

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”
 
When God says “no” I come back to this…God loves me,He has my best in mind,

He has a plan for my life,

and he’s sovereign.

I can trust him to accomplish the best for me…..even when he says “no”.

In moments like this, when I don’t understand his “no” I go back to the verses that direct me when I don’t have answers…the verses that calm my confused and disheartened mind,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
  and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.”

Seeking God

mountains

“Seek the Lord while you can find him.

Call on him now while he is near.”

-Isaiah 55

This morning, just after sunrise, I went for a long walk in the woods. If you are ever in a place like this you have to walk out into the woods and be still, listen, pray and praise.  That was my goal this morning…and I hoped to see a bear…but back to my topic.  I walked about a mile back into the forest and just stood still…waiting…waiting for God.  I prayed, I sang (badly), I quieted my mind and listened….
….I listened for God, but at times he feels as elusive as that bear I never saw today.  At times I wait, I listen and I hear nothing…..I want to hear from him, I want to follow him, I want to be aware of his presence, but often…..silence.
I know many struggle when this happens.  I have.  Is this a game of “hide-and-seek”?  Why is this so hard?  But there is much more going on than you know when you sense God is not there.  He’s teaching us to be still.  God said to David, “Be still (shut up) and know that I am God.”  God is there and he is not silent, but often I’m deaf to his voice.  How do I fix that?  What do I do?
I have to be still….be quiet, quiet my mind, my heart, my voice and wait on him.  This morning I stood in the deep forest for more than 30 minutes.  I know, that’s not very long, but as I stood there praying, listening, silent before God, I waited for his voice.  He knows I want to follow, he knows I desire his will, he knows me better than I know me….and yet he makes me wait.  He says nothing.
What is going on?  What’s wrong?  Nothing at all….God is working on things I’m completely unaware of.  He’s dealing with things in my life I have never dealt with.  For me the first task is stillness….God has the response…I will know that HE is God.
I’m seeking God.  He’s not like that old bear who avoided me this morning…he’s always with me, working in my life…even when I don’t see him, even when I don’t hear him.  In these times I wait.  He always works in my life in ways that surprise me.  I look forward to his surprise today.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Building Forts or Equipping Knights?

In the last week I have visited with several couples about their angst and concern for their kids.  The normal response for most Christian parents I have met is to build a fort to keep their kids safe, to protect them from the “world”.  The problem with that plan is that one day these kids we raise will leave the walls of the fort you have built and will engage the world…and most likely they will fail, in fact more than 80% of them will leave the Christian faith.The_Lahore_Forts_Alamgiri_Gate_Picture2_taken_at_night_-_July_20_2005

The problem I see is the belief that building forts is the right strategy.  Might I counter that with another approach, another way of raising kids?  Rather than building forts I would encourage parents to equip knights.  Give your kids the tools and weapons they will need when they go into the world and leave your home because one day they will face the world….ready or not.  If you don’t arm them intellectually, biblically, morally, and spiritually for the battles ahead they will find themselves speechless and “naked” before a world that has been battling the issues you have protected you child from for most of their lives.
Sending a child into this world unarmed is the cruelest of all parenting decisions.  Let me suggest that, rather than protecting them from the world you help them engage the world, deal with the hard issues of sex, homosexuality, morality, atheism….ETC….and do it with them while still in your home.  The difference in the outcome couldn’t be more clear. A child raised in a fort will face the world and fail not far from the castle gates, but a child prepared for the world around them will know the issues, know how to think and be ready with a living faith to face a cynical world.
These ideas are just seeds sown at the moment. I would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas as we raise children in a post-Christian world. How much better to send them out into the world dressed and ready for the battle, able to deal with the issues they will face when they leave home.

Here is an article on this topic I encourage you to read- “Listening to Young Atheists”

templar-knights1
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Quiet Time

Quiet time

I think our culture needs a time out….a quiet time out.  This morning, EARLY this morning, I’m reading,  praying, thinking…and in my ears is noise all around.

The neighbors next door fighting,

the neighbors behind me hollering at their kids,

dogs barking in response,

airplanes flying overhead,

will you all please be quiet!

Silence is something our world does not like.  We are a world of noise…noise 24/7.  Noise to keep the silence away.  There are few places where we can go to find a place without the noise of our world….because in the silence we have to deal with ourselves, we have to deal with God, we have to deal with the things we have done and so we turn up the noise.

It’s interesting that in the bible quietness and peace with God are spoken of together.  Noise and sin are partners as well.  It seems that quiet is the posture of peace, of a right relationship with God…it’s comfortable when peace with God is a reality.  But when we haven’t resolved our relationship with God, when there is no peace with God we keep the volume turned up so we don’t have to deal with him.

Isaiah wrote, “The Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.””

In Psalms God said to David, “Hush, be quiet and know that I am God.”

As I listen to the noise all around me, volumes increasing as the sun rises, I am thankful for the peace, the quiet of a relationship with God that gives me calm in the storm of noise swirling all around.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The slide to despair

It happens quickly.

It happens easily.

At least it does with me.

Discouragement….

Disappointment….

Dejection….

Despondency…

Depression and then despair.

It’s a quick slide from the first thoughts of discouragement to the pit of despair. It happens so quickly that it’s often a surprise to find we have come to utter despair and hopelessness. David battled this just as many of us do. He wrote about it in Psalm 40.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is the man
who makes the LORD his trust,
David described it well. The slide to despair feels like a slide on mud or wet clay. You can’t get your footing. Then suddenly you are in the pit of despair. Hopeless. Helpless. Alone….or so it seems. Although nothing may have changed in the real world you feel that your world has crumbled into ashes. It’s a difficult place to be. It’s a difficult place to get out of. Unless the Lord helps us we would most likely remain in the pit of despair. Some never get out. But God does help. He does give us the hand we need, the help we need. He does change our song from a dirge to a praise. He does lift us up. If you’re like me these slides to despair happen without warning….for no reason at all…and then you have to deal with the clouds of doom that fog your thoughts. The Psalms were David’s journals as he dealt with his own frequent descents into despair. Here are his directions for those of us in the pit today-
1 I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul will make its boast in the LORD;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
3 O magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
If you find yourself in the pit of despair look to the Lord. He will lift you out of the hopelessness. When it seems there’s no way out he will come to your rescue. The slide to despair is an easy one. The climb out is God’s work as we trust him. As one who frequently visits the pit I’m glad for a wonderful God who gives me hope and help when I need it most.
(Thank you, James, for your help this morning.)

Sunrise or sunset?

Is it sunset or sunrise? Is the day beginning or ending? Is light coming or will it be darkness? What lies ahead?
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This was a topic of discussion in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. Both in heaven and in hell it was twilight. In both places the residents anticipated the dawn, but it’s clear from the story that in one place dawn is coming and in the other eternal darkness.
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For some the dusk between morning and night has them confused. The events of life have kept them in these dimly lit hours so long that they don’t know if it’s dawn on the way or dark. For some the approach of the dawn looks like the approach of darkness. It’s hard for them to anticipate daylight when they have been in the gloom of dusk for so long.
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This morning I met with one of our guys who is really discouraged. He’s anticipating the night when in fact the day is about to dawn, but he can’t see it. He only sees his sun setting when all around the birds are singing as the day arrives. When we go through difficult experiences of life it seems that darkness is what awaits us. We lose vision, lose hope, lose our bearing of what God is doing. The dusk, our problems, anticipate either night or dawn and we don’t know which awaits us, but there is this promise of the morning approaching as the author of scripture writes,
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2 Peter 1:19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
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It’s not the dark ahead, but morning. When you are discouraged, depressed, anticipating your dusk to soon turn to dark realize that God has promised morning for us. Light is coming, not fading away. Hope is rising, not disappearing. Life isn’t over, it’s just beginning. The dawn is on the way. The morning star will soon be here and darkness will disappear forever.
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I did my best this morning to encourage my friend and give him hope for the day ahead. I fear his dusk lingers. He is awaiting the night and not hoping for day, but listen carefully…the birds are chirping. The Son of righteousness is soon to come. Morning nears.

Baggage

“Life is largely a matter of luggage.” -Frank Boreham, The Luggage of life

I’m always amazed at how much we are willing to carry with us that is completely unnecessary.

We are masters at gathering baggage.

The burden of the load slows our journey, distracts our minds and confuses our relationships.

John Bunyan wrote about baggage in his work Pilgrim’s Progress.

George Carlin talked about it in a comedy routine.

No matter who we are we find a way to carry our lives around with us. Often it’s emotional baggage we have accumulated over the years. Unforgiveness. Anger. Hurts. Old memories of wrongs done. Pain. And the list could continue for pages. But have you noticed that it’s always the negatives that become baggage? It’s all the hurts of life that weigh us down. The pain that handicaps us.

The good that God intended has no weight at all.  Joy is light as a feather. Happiness lifts us up rather than weighing us down. Peace carries its own load and helps us along the way. Kindness refreshes the weary traveler. Love makes the impossible possible once more. Mercy energizes. Grace empowers. The things God wants us to put in our backpacks help us on the way and have no weight to load us down. It’s only when we carry the results of sin that the weight and struggles begin.

That’s the invitation Jesus extended. “Come unto me….” It’s found in Matthew 11-12 if you want to read it. His invitation is to make the journey without all the baggage of the world in tow. When will we realize that this journey was meant to be a wonderful adventure with God instead of a grueling journey to be endured? When will we get rid of all that weighs us down and pick up the things that make the journey a joy?

I wonder sometimes about our fascination with baggage. It’s as if we have to hold onto something. I even see it in death. We are so reluctant to let go of this life. We want to hold onto all the junk we have accumulated, but find in the end that it’s just that….junk. I wonder if we will ever realize we have become a race of junk collectors….glad to carry the burdens of our trash instead of enjoying the blessings God provides.

Alone

AloneOne of the grim realities of life is that we are alone. In the middle of a busy city with others all around we are alone.
This “aloneness” is one of the results of the fall, but is mostly ignored by writers. We simply don’t talk about it. Man, designed to be in constant relationship with God who made him is now thrust into the world empty, alone, isolated. Even with thousands around us we all have sensed this truth…we are alone.
In God’s amazing plan of redemption his intentions were to deal with more than one problem in the cross. Clearly the Christian world knows about his resolution of the sin issue. Without a doubt we all know about God’s redemption accomplished by Christ, the forgiveness of sin, the restored relationship, the promise of eternity, but what we don’t talk about is the resolution of man’s isolation problem.
Part of God’s plan in redemption was to bring us back into a relationship with him. We use those words so easily, but don’t realize what they mean. One of our major problems caused by sin is our isolation. We are alone! God’s plans included the restoration of how he designed us to be. His plans included the repair of this breach. Here is what Jesus says about this plan,
John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.’ 22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ 23 Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
“We will come to him and make our home with him.” Did you see that? In God’s amazing plan of salvation he also plans to resolve our aloneness. He resolves it by coming to us and living with us. Suddenly, we are no longer alone. In a moment of time the great ache of the heart is resolved. Human beings, designed to be in constant fellowship with God, through Christ, are restored to that relationship. God with us, living in us, our hope of glory. This truth is profound and immensely important. If we miss this we miss all that God has done. No longer alone….what an amazing and wonderful part of God’s redemptive work.

God in the Furnace

It’s often hard to see God, to see his hand, his work in our lives. It’s often hard to sense his presence, but for the believer he’s ever present. In fact, he says he will never leave us, but most of the time we don’t sense his presence, we aren’t aware of his care.For me it’s the busy life I live that makes his voice hard to hear, his face hard to see. I don’t take the time to quiet my mind and heart to listen, to see him ever with me.The times when God is most visible, the times when we see him the most clearly are times of test, times of trial. It’s in those refining moments the ever present one is most clearly seen….with us even in the heat of the trial.As I read Daniel 3 this morning, the story of Daniel’s friends and their trial by fire, the ever present one is unseen until Daniel’s friends are in the midst of the flames. In those refining moments, in the furnaces of our lives, God’s presence is most clearly seen. It’s in those moments when we desperately need to see him. In the midst of the trial our questions abound, in the midst of the heat we need him most. Has he brought us to this trial to destroy us? Is he punishing us for our sins? Why is this happening to us?

And in the midst of the furnace God is with us. He never leaves us. Last night I was with a family in the furnace of a lifetime. It’s a trial by fire to be sure. This is when they most need God’s presence, his care, his love. It’s in their furnace that they will see him. He is always with us, always caring for us….even in the furnace of trials.

But why trials? Why use the furnace to make himself known and seen? It’s because in the furnace no one can help us but God. As the king said to Daniel’s friends, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” The king has defined the test- Is there a God who can deliver from the furnace? Is there someone to help when the trials of life overwhelm? The answer from the furnace is “YES! I’m here with you. Don’t worry, I will take care of you.”

The God of glory is always with us working for our good and his glory. In the midst of your furnace God is with you making himself known to you and seen by the world. In the midst of the furnace all other distractions are burned away and we see the ever present God who is always with us.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Grieving

grief2Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

Grief is part of the human experience. We avoid it, we dread it, but we will all experience it. Grief, when it happens, changes us and our lives and our future. There is no retreat from the loss that caused our grief. We grieve because our lives have been changed forever….in a way we never imagined, never wanted.

Grief is our response to a terrible loss. It’s the right response to loss. How could we not cry when we lose someone we love? How could we not grieve when we are shocked by something that should never have happened? Grief is a right response to the loss. Tears are part of the grieving process.

Grief is also social. We grieve best in community. We need each other more when a loss happens and we gather together to grieve, to cry, to sorrow. Somehow community helps us deal with grief. We have an opportunity to talk about our loss, our pain, our hurt. We have a chance to cry with someone who listens and cares about us.

Grief, believe it or not, is a gift from God. He helps us through our grief to give us peace and comfort. What grief tells us all is that this is not the way it is supposed to be. What has happened to us that has caused our grief is not right, not the way we should live. And our response, as we grieve, tells us this is not the way we were designed.

Soon grief will be done away with. Tears will be dried. Reasons for grief will be permanently dealt with. Soon God will put death to death and grief will no longer be part of our lives. Until then he gives us hope, peace, a promise of eternal life ahead. Until then he gives us each other to hug, to cry, to grieve together. Until the day grief is put to death he gives us the promise of peace and life ahead. This is not the end…..grief will one day be swallowed up in joy.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

New Year New Beginnings

It’s a new year.  A chance for new choices, a fresh start.  A time to look ahead and change what was wrong, to plant a new crop for the new year.

It’s a chance for new beginnings.  What will you do with the next year?  It’s all in your hands to live each day with the excitement of a child as they open each Christmas gift.  What will you find in the days ahead?NewBeginning

We always begin a new year with hopes and dreams of better things, but soon find that the same problems, same choices, and same people are still the same!  But don’t let the sameness around you keep you from planting new crops in your life, from doing something different, from new adventures.  Make the choice to do one new thing this year that you have always wanted to do.

Plant a new kind of seed in your life.  Become a student of a new interest, learn something new that has always interested you, go somewhere you have always wanted to go.  God is a God of adventure in our lives with him and in his desires for us personally.  He smiles when we thrive.  So, this year, with a new year beginning what new things will you do?   What adventures will you go on in your walk with God?

We are in the last days.  The Lord is coming soon.  There has never been a time like this when God’s people can be part of such an amazing time.  Love people.  Get to know God more deeply.  And consider the new year ahead the greatest adventure you will ever embark upon.  It will be exciting!

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Extreme Grace

I am thrilled to know and experience the grace of God.  It’s absolutely life changing once you know what God has done for us.

One of the great tragedies of the church in our day is the fear so many have of grace.  They fear what might happen if people really knew they were completely forgiven, loved and part of heaven even now.  That security, for some, is just too good to be true. There must be a trick up God’s sleeve somewhere.  He can’t really mean that we already have everything and can never lose it.  There must be something we have to do, some work, some duty that will let us make our relationship and eternity sure, but there isn’t….it’s absolutely and totally free, available by faith alone and will last forever!
But grace is even more extreme than you think it is.  It’s outrageous and foolish from man’s viewpoint.  In his love God provided for all of mankind a free gift of forgiveness, redemption, salvation, security, eternity with him, and peace now…if they would simply accept his gift by faith.
You have to know I haven’t gotten to the extreme part yet.  Here it is, are you ready?  God has made it possible for us to be his sons, his daughters!  Imagine, a son of God.  That is so crazy I can’t even understand what that

looks like! But there’s more….he’s also given each of his children HIS Spirit to dwell in them, lead them, help them, and be with them….are you ready….forever.  When the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, takes up residence in us he promises to never leave.  We are men and women indwelt by the God who made us for all eternity!
More?  Ok, here we go…there is nothing you can do, good or bad…ever, to lose what he has given you.  You cannot lose his gifts to you if you have received them.  They are yours by faith alone and eternally yours….you can never be lost.  An eternal, indwelt by the Spirit of God, child of God.  More? We are destined to live with God and be part of his eternal kingdom.  Priests and Kings he calls us.  Children of God he describes us.  The names and provisions would fill pages, more than I have room to speak of here, but his grace extended to us is extreme at the far end of the scale.
The work of God in grace could fill volumes!  It’s not just a “saving grace”, although it is that, it’s an extreme grace that completely changes everything about our lives here and our eternity ahead.
But sadly many have made this wonderful grace a small thing.  They fear what believers might do if they knew.  The tragedy is that if they knew they would fall more deeply in love with God and lean in closer to know him better.  Let’s talk about this extreme grace to those we know and celebrate the amazing love of God in his provision for us. It is a wonderfully glorious magnificent extreme grace!
Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

The Purpose Of Practice

What is the purpose of practice?   Practice means you haven’t mastered something yet, but are working on it.  Here’s a simple definition from the dictionary,

Practice-  repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. 

It’s the work we do so it doesn’t look like it took any effort at all to do it.  It’s mastery of a skill.  Archers shoot hundreds of arrows at a target until they are able to hit the center with precision.  Gymnasts practice hours each day to make impossible feats of gymnastics seem effortless.

Practice makes a hack at the piano a master musician who draws thousands to hear him play.  When we say, “I wish I could do that.”  He would reply, “You can if you practice eight hours a day for about 20 years.”  Practice.  It’s the disciple we use to master something and become proficient at it.

My wife recently had surgery.  She didn’t look for a doctor who was new to this type of surgery. She looked for someone who had done thousands of them.  Why?  His practice had made him a master at this difficult procedure.

You get the idea, don’t you, but I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with all this.  I’m setting the stage for these amazing and often overlooked words from Jesus,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”  -Jesus, Matthew 6

What he didn’t say is “don’t practice…”  He said be careful how and where you practice.  Then, for the rest of the chapter he deals with the things he wants any disciple to master by practice- prayer, giving, fasting, etc. What we often miss in the words of Jesus is this- you will be practicing these things to master them, just be careful where and how you do it.

Today some are revisiting the very idea of practice and it has many confused.  What this whole discussion is about is simply this- sanctification.  All of these things Jesus talks about in Matthew 6 are simply the disciplines of sanctification.  They are things we do to grow into Christlikeness.  And, clearly Jesus knew we needed practice so he gives us guidance to perfect our practice.

What’s the goal?  Hebrews 10:14-  “He has made perfect forever those who are becoming holy.”  The goal of practice is to become like the one who has saved us.  It’s the practice of perfecting godliness (2 Cor. 7:1)  and doing it intentionally that produces Christlikeness.*  Then, one day, after all your practice, you will hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

*A comment that will arise is this- “But what about the Holy Spirit’s work in us. You left that out.”  Yes, I left it out for brevity. I am very aware that godliness and Christlikeness must happen as the Holy Spirit works in us and with us, but for brevity and focus on the topic I left this portion of sanctification for another day.

Blessed

Are there days when you feel “blessed”?  Days when the sun is shining and all is right with your world?  We all have had that sense that the sun is shining on us and God likes us.  I know that feeling as well as most, but today was a day when you might not use that word to describe my day.
I wonder why we think this word “blessed” only applies when things are going well, when all is right with our lives and world?  If the word “blessing” only applies when things are good then what word would you use to describe your life when things are not so good?  Does “cursed” describe the other pole in this discussion?
Do you consider yourself blessed?  Do you only think that when you win the lottery, when you get that raise, when the tornado misses your house, when you kids get scholarships to college, when you’re in the 50% that didn’t get laid off from work?
Let me frame these questions in a different way- do our circumstances determine whether we are blessed or not?  And, what does “blessed” really mean in a fickle world like this anyway?
This whole discussion was the theme of the book of Job.  It was a hotly debated topic for Job’s friends.  Job must have done something wrong because God is not “blessing him” any longer (their words, not mine), but what if blessing has nothing to do with our situation, our circumstances?  What if it isn’t about good things OR bad?  I’m asking a lot of questions here on purpose.  I’m trying to unpack this myself as I reflect on the day.
No one would look at my day and called me “blessed” but I am, and it had nothing to do with good things OR bad.  It has everything to do with who I am in relationship with.  The idea of being blessed is woven into the very idea of knowing God.  It’s a relationship that generates this word as commentary of a life….even when the tornado does hit my house, the car breaks down, the dog dies, I get laid off and lose everything.
You see being blessed is all about who you know not how the day went or what you have.  I think we miss this too easily, I know I do, but this afternoon as I watched a nurse interact with my wife and I and heard her say (not is these exact words) “Boy are you guys blessed!”  I knew in that commentary from a nurse I didn’t know that she saw in us the blessing of knowing God (and it sure wasn’t because of how the day went!)
Today and every day, good days and bad, I am blessed, and so are you, because we know God.  That’s what “blessed” really means.

Becoming Animals

It’s interesting living in the culture we do.

In this post-modern culture, or whatever it’s called now,  there is a wholesale abandonment  of belief in God.  At university level the statistics say that 70% or more of Christian kids will abandon their faith and become agnostic or atheist.

The culture at large is moving away from a belief in God as well.  Around us is a culture proud of its ability to function without God.  They even claim to be moral without God (but that discussion is for another day).

What’s the price for these choices? What does it cost a man to turn his back on God?  Or course you might expect me to say it costs him salvation, and that is true, but there is another price that most don’t realize they pay- they lose their role as image bearers.

The bible says we were made in the image of God, but when we deny him, refuse to believe in him, to follow him, we forsake the very thing we were designed to be- image bearers of God.

As a result we often choose to bear the image of the only thing left, the animal world around us.  I think this is why movies like the Twilight series are so popular.  Men and women becoming vampires and werewolves gives them an image to reflect, an identity….the image of animals.  

This comes out as well in a new TV series titled GRIMM.  In this series a police officer is chasing people who look completely normal, but are really animals under the skin.  When we deny our role as image bearers of God we usually imitate what we see around us.

Romans 1 talks of this, but not in exactly the same way I am here.  It’s clear we were designed to reflect God, to bear his image.  When we refuse our identity we will reflect something, what will that be?

Some wonder why the world around us is becoming so violent, why anger, killing, and war seems to be growing.  In part it’s because we have decided to abandon our calling as image bearers of God and the results are what we see in our world today…men acting like animals.

When you turn your back on God you lose much more than you would imagine.  You lose the God who made you, you lose the promise of life, you lose peace (that’s another post as well) and you lose sight of what you were designed to be, you lose your identity.

The price is much higher than we even know, but when we deny God we also deny being made in his image and choose a lower image. We choose to become men without souls, without a purpose, without a moral compass, without hope.  We become animals.

 

Visit Mike at FinishingWell.
 
 

Desperate Days

My soft-hearted receptionist came back to tell me there was a lady in real need in our reception area and she didn’t want to just send her away empty handed.

I met with Nancy.  It’s hard to know how best to help at times. Is this person just begging for a living or is this a real need?  It’s sad, but I have to deal with these questions and make difficult choices at times.

Nancy had a very sad story.  No place to live, no money, mental illness and a 16 year old daughter. The only way I can imagine it worse is if she had cancer!  She was desperate for help of some kind.  This is happening more often than we want to admit.  These are desperate days.

In case you’re wondering, yes I helped Nancy and her daughter.  It’s what we do as Christ followers, isn’t it?  It’s why people come to us for help because they know that Christians are supposed to help and we are, we should, we must.  In desperate times like these there is nothing more important than showing the love God extends us by extending it to others.

This spirit of caring comes because God has cared for us.  It’s a response to God’s love for us that makes us reach out to others.  Some are selling their homes, moving into smaller homes and using the extra money to help others.  Others are looking for different ways to help those in need. The love of Christ is motivating them to share what God has given them with those in need.

This is how Jesus fed the multitudes.  He gave the bread and fish to the disciples who then gave it to the crowds.  He made them “middle men” for his provision.  He does the same with us in our day.  We are his “middle men and women” sharing what God has given us with those in need, both spiritually and physically.  
In desperate days like these the love of Christ in us is revealed most clearly as we help those who have nowhere else to go.  The love of God moves us to action just as it did God when he gave to us,  “For God so loved the world he gave….”

Giving out of love is the very nature of our Father.  As his children we have this same heart, a heart of love that gives.  Pray for an opportunity to share the love of God with those in need around you.   Desperate days give us opportunities to show how glorious the love of God is for those in need of both food and faith.

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Modeling Christ

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” -Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:

Paul did something I have not seen others do.  He offered himself as the model of what a Christ follower should look like.  As I read these words this morning they once more stopped me to think about what that would look like in my life and yours.

Paul was so confident that he understood the Christ life and was living it that he invited others to follow him and imitate his life.  “Boys, just watch me and do it like I do it” would be Paul’s words to a young disciple.

It demands two important things in a life, 1. that you know what a life lived as an imitator of Christ looks like, and 2. that you are actually living that way.  It demands a clear map of the route and a confidence you are on the path as a disciple yourself…that you are in fact imitating Christ.

But this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing in our lives, isn’t it?  Dads, are you telling your sons and daughters, “just watch me live the Christian life and you will be ok”?  Pastors, are you inviting others to follow you around and imitate your life, your words?  You should!

Paul has given us the foundational principle of discipleship- modeling.  “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” are heady words to say to someone.  It means you must know where you are going, what it looks like, and actually be going the right way. It means you know that others are watching you, following you, imitating you.

If someone is imitating your life will they get it right? Will they be a follower of Christ or a deformed version of one?  Have you invited someone to imitate you as a Christ follower?  If not, what do you need to change? Where are you going that you wouldn’t want another to follow?  Are you modeling Christ for others to follow?

This is our greatest need in the church today…men and women following Christ and inviting others to imitate them in the way.  What do you need to change to make that offer to another?  Could it be that most of us don’t know where we are going in the first place?  If you have never offered this invitation to another what must you change to invite another to follow you?

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  What an amazing invitation from the pen of Paul.  I’ve never been invited to follow another in this way, nor have I made the invitation.  I wonder what would change if we did…….

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

Boxes

I hate to admit it, but I live in a box.  It’s a box created for me by others, by business, family, friends and the world around me. But the really sad truth is that I willingly climbed in the box and taped the lid shut…never asking if it was a box I should be in at all, never thinking about the implications of such a box in my life.  Like everyone around me I was given a box by someone somewhere and willingly made it my own and even wrote my name on it!  It became part of my identity.

Like children playing, making cars, houses and forts out of boxes we adults build invisible boxes for one another.  Boxes of expectation, roles, position, and a hundred other words to describe the box we have come to call our identity, or role, our “place”.  We never stop to think about what that box means, how it might affect us and our choices or the way we think. Our box limits our choices, restricts our vision, and frustrates our gifts.

This morning I had coffee with a good friend who told me I was living in a box.  He didn’t know where I got it, but he described it well.  As he listened to me he made me aware  of how restricted my vision had become because of the box I had accepted many years ago.  It was humbling to realize I had been given a box and had never questioned its role in my life.  Was it right? Should I get into it? Is this the way I should live?  Is this how I should think?

Without any questions I took the boxes handed me and made them my own. They have limited me, identified me, and restricted God’s work in my life.  How did I ever let this happen? Why did I believe this box was what I needed to identify me?

Children love boxes.  They aren’t so much fun when they define your life, your thinking or your values as an adult.  I can’t believe that I let this happen….happy to look out the hole I had cut in my box and survey the world around me….trying to make boxes like mine for others….only to find I had made prisoners of us all.

I’m taking a different tack today as I look at my thoughts and my life.  I’ve decided it’s time to be done with the boxes of childhood and walk in the freedom of the grace that Christ has provided.

Read Romans 8 as you look at your own life. What boxes have you made your own?  How have you missed God’s grace by accepting the boxes others have given you?

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

No Simple Lives

One thing I’ve noticed about people is that things are never simple. I think it’s because we are not simple. Our lives are made up of hundreds of nicks and bruises we have each experienced. All those blows, bad relationships, disappointments and life experiences make us who we are and it’s never simple to sort out.

A few weeks ago, as I listened to a couple working through some real problems in their marriage, I thought….”this is really complicated. There are no easy answers.” Honestly, I think that same thing almost every time I talk with someone. It’s difficult to sort out all the pieces of our lives that have brought us to where we are today. How do we get it all tied together so we aren’t tripping over ourselves? How do we work through all that we are to fix what we have become? Honestly, there are no simple lives. There are no simple answers.

But as I watch Jesus in the gospels I see his encounters with people in a different way. The difference is that he knew the heart of man and was able to go to the very heart of each person’s problem. With a word, a touch, a smile Jesus healed broken lives. He knew what each life needed.

Here is a story of one man’s encounter with Jesus. In this brief encounter Jesus meets the needs of this broken man,

Mark 1:40-45- 40A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (If you are willing. It’s almost a question, Are you willing? Not can you help me? but will you help me? The most important question is this one, Lord, will you help me?)41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (The compassion of Jesus brought a response that I’m sure no one expected. In fact this leper was in front of Jesus contrary to the law that would keep him apart from others who didn’t have leprosy.42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. 43Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44“See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”45Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

This story is one of my favorites in the gospels. It’s a story of the prayer we have all prayed, “if you are willing.” We wait, hoping God is indeed willing to meet our needs, but he does so much more. This man had been without a human touch, without real love and without acceptance for so long that his first need, in spite of his obvious illness, was a touch. In that amazing moment of time Jesus did the unthinkable….he reached out and touched this dirty, diseased man. The touch did so much more than heal the disease, it healed the whole man.

Like this poor leper in Mark we each come to Jesus with all our sickness and disease visible for all to see…the bible calls it sin. Our plea is simple, if you’re willing you can make me clean, you can forgive my sins. And with a touch…that amazing touch….we each find healing and forgiveness.

As a result of that touch and the love of Jesus to meet this man’s needs a great exchange happened. It happens with us when we trust him. Some call it the exchanged life and indeed it is. But with this man the exchange was dramatic. The man who had lived alone and removed from mankind was now among them. Talking, touching, hugging and telling everyone about Jesus to such an extent that Jesus had to go to the wilderness away from mankind and even there the people, all in need of his touch, sought him out.

Mankind is still asking this man’s simple question, “If you are willing you can make me clean.” And his response is the same, with a touch of his hand he replies, “I’m willing, be clean.” And so, with all our warts and wrinkles, all our problems and struggles Jesus comes to touch the hurting and heal each one. If you’re wondering if he can fix your messy life just ask him. You’ll be amazed at the smile, the touch, the acceptance and the reply, “I’m willing, be clean.”

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

War Of The Worlds

We are in a war, but it’s not the war we are trying to fight.

It’s not a war between Republicans and Democrats.

It’s not a war between conservatives and liberals.

It’s not a war between Christians and Muslims.

It’s not a war between gay and straight.

It’s not a war between “us” and “them”.

These are the wars we are fighting in the Christian world I live in, but they are the wrong wars, the wrong battlefields, attacks against the wrong enemies.

We are taking blows at symptoms, not at the real enemies.  We find ourselves boxing shadows and completely missing the real enemies among us.  It is a war of the worlds, but not the one we fight now.  Here’s the real battlefield, here’s the real enemy,

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”  -Ephesians 6

I’m sure our real enemies are thrilled with the shadow boxing we are doing….swinging at what is not the real enemy at all…and all the while our unseen enemy continues the fight.

The real battlefield is spiritual.

The real enemy is the devil and his angels.

The real war is fought in prayer and with love for others.

The Christian world I live in has chosen to fight the wrong war, focus on what is not the enemy,  oppose what isn’t the real problem at all….and all the while the real enemy prospers and smiles at our foolishness.  He has masterfully misdirected our attention at the wrong things. We are in a war of the worlds….I pray we realize who the real enemy is and focus our attacks in the right way, with the right weapons at the real enemy.

Our battle in never with people, let me repeat that….our battle is never with people…it’s always spiritual and with an enemy unseen.   

If the enemy can get us to focus our attention on the wrong battle, the wrong enemy, the wrong battlefield all the better for him.

In this war of the worlds I pray we see what the real war is about, who the real enemy really is and how we are to respond.  The real war is for the souls of men, the real enemy is the devil, and the proper response for us is love and prayer.  Those are the “weapons” that will change the culture around us and deal a death blow to the enemy’s plans.

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.

A Messy Life And A Heart For God

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Ch.16.9

What does this look like in real life?  Does it mean we never sin, never get angry, never say the wrong thing or stumble in our walk?  What does it mean when the Lord talks of looking for hearts fully committed to him?

I read this verse and am convinced he can’t be talking about me.  The desire is there to be fully committed, but my life tells a different story.  My life is messy, smelly at times with sin, I get frustrated, say the wrong things….frankly this verse can’t be talking about someone like me….but then I realize that he’s looking at the heart.

If God just looked at my life he would pass by without a second glance.  I’m a mess.  There is nothing of the material saints are made of in my life, nothing that would tell you  I’m a godly man, very little of a holy life for others to see and evaluate.

In fact, if I were under close scrutiny to evaluate my life and determine if I were a Christian I think I would fail the test.  Fruit rejected.  Life a waste.  Failure.

But then I reread these words…God is looking for hearts fully committed.  I so want to be that person, that fully committed one.  Can my heart be fully committed and my life an utter mess?  If God is looking for fruit, I fail.  If he’s looking for a heart that wants to please him no one wants that more than I.

How do I reconcile this paradox?  How do I bring together a heart that wants God with all that is in me and a life that wanders, choices that are messy, a life that doesn’t look much different than the world around me at times?

I don’t know.  I only know this…when his eyes pass my way he will see a messy life, but a heart that truly wants to be fully committed to him.  In the mess of all of this all I can do is trust him to help me follow my heart’s passion for him.

 

Visit Mike at Finishing Well.